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In Stunning Rebuke To Kavanaugh,  Sotomayor Warns Of Radical Trump Court

Reprinted with permission from Alternet

Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor delivered a strong warning to the American people and a strong rebuke of Justice Brett Kavanaugh and the newest far right wing Justices on the Trump-shaped conservative-majority Supreme Court in a blistering but brilliant dissent handed down Thursday.

Justice Sotomayor warned this newly-constructed court, unevenly weighted with six justices (ranging from highly conservative to far right wing religious extremist,) is "willing to overrule precedent without even acknowledging it is doing so, much less providing any special justification."

That warning is similar to those posed by legal experts from the left who were extremely opposed to then-President Donald Trump's final Supreme Court nominee, Amy Coney Barrett. Justice Barrett's judicial opinions made clear she will not honor precedent, known as stare decisis. Without that legal guardrail many decidedly settled law targets of conservatives, from the right to choose an abortion to the right to marry, could be struck down by the "Trump Court."

The case Justice Sotomayor used to deliver her warning and her criticism of Justice Kavanaugh, is Jones v. Mississippi. It centers on a 15-year old boy who murdered his father, claimed self defense, and was sentenced to life in prison. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled life in prison for minors convicted of "non-homicide crimes" constitutes cruel and unusual punishment, unless that minor has been found to be "incorrigible," or unable to be rehabilitated. (The ACLU's position is regardless of the type of crime, life in prison for minors is cruel and unusual.)

On Thursday Justice Kavanaugh, who himself has a history of disturbing acts in college, as his confirmation hearing proved, wrote the 6-3 majority opinion in which he upheld the lower court ruling that the defendant was rightly sentenced to life in prison despite no finding of whether or not he is able to be rehabilitated.

"How low this Court's respect for stare decisis has sunk," Justice Sotomayor warned.

"Not long ago, that doctrine was recognized as a pillar of the 'rule of law,' critical to 'keep the scale of justice even and steady, and not liable to waver with every new judge's opinion,'" she wrote, citing Kavanaugh's own opinion in a previous ruling.

"Now, it seems, the Court is willing to overrule precedent without even acknowledging it is doing so, much less providing any special justification. It is hard to see how that approach is 'founded in the law rather than in the proclivities of individuals,'" she added, again using Kavanaugh's own words against him.

She called the ruling a "contortion" of previous rulings, and writes: "As this Court has consistently reiterated, 'a departure from precedent demands special justification.'"

"The Court offers no such justification today. Nor could it," she charged.

"Instead of addressing these factors, the Court simply rewrites Miller and Montgomery," she observes, naming the two cases the provide the precedent today's ruling effectively overrules, "to say what the Court now wishes they had said, and then denies that it has done any such thing."

Slate's legal expert Mark Joseph Stern calls the ruling in the case "barbarous," Sotomayor's warning "ominous," and her criticism of Kavanaugh "one of the most savage passages she has ever written."

University of Michigan Law School asst. professor Leah Litman:


The U.S. Supreme Court has now made emphatically clear it is an activist court and "settled law" is fair game.

Civil rights activists, and the American people who value their rights, consider yourselves warned.

Sotomayor Rebukes Court Majority For Jeoparding Rights Of Florida Voters

Reprinted with permission from Alternet

Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote a forceful rebuke to her colleagues on the Supreme Court Thursday as the majority decided to leave in place a lower court's ruling protecting Florida's effort to disenfranchise nearly 1 million voters.

The Supreme Court had been faced with the prospect of weighing in on a battle over a Florida law requiring people who have been convicted of felonies to pay all related fines to the state before they can vote. In 2018, Florida passed a popular referendum by a large margin permitting people with felonies on their records to participate in elections, but the state government — clearly fearful this change will hurt Republican officeholders — tried to find a loophole. So the new rule puts another hurdle in place for people who have committed felonies to jump over before they can register to vote.

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Sotomayor: Supreme Court Excused Trump’s Bigotry In DACA Decision

Reprinted with permission from Alternet

Many immigrants and their advocates won a major victory on Thursday when the Supreme Court issued an opinion, drafted by Chief Justice John Roberts, blocking the Trump administration's efforts to rescind a program protecting undocumented people who arrived in the United States before they were adults. But Justice Sonia Sotomayor dissented from one part of Roberts' majority ruling, even as she and the other three liberal justices concurred with the chief justice for the bulk of the decision.

The case examined the Trump administration's decision to wind down the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program that was implemented under President Barack Obama. In a split 5-4 decision, the majority of the court found that the Department of Homeland Security gave an insufficient rationale for rescinding DACA and determined that the decision was impermissibly "arbitrary and capricious." The Trump administration may still be able to end the program, but it will have to go through a thorough review process before it tries again.

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In Fiery Dissent, Sotomayor Rebukes Right-Wing Justices For Fealty To Trump

Reprinted with permission from Alternet

Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote a devastating conclusion to a dissenting opinion released Friday, drawing attention to her conservative colleagues’ callousness toward inmates facing the death penalty and contrasting it with their excessive fealty to President Donald Trump.

Her dissent broke from the court’s decision to grant the Trump administration a stay in the case of Wolf v. Cook County. In the case, a lower court had issued a preliminary injunction blocking implementation in Illinois of Trump’s new “public charge” rule, which places restrictions on immigrants who it believes might use certain government services. Last week, the Trump administration had asked the Supreme Court to overturn the injunction and issue a stay to allow the rule to go into effect while the legal challenges continue.

The five conservative justices ruled in favor of the stay, while the liberal justices — including Sotomayor — opposed it.

But, as Economist reporter Steven Mazie pointed out, Sotomayor was the only one to write a formal dissent — and it included strong words for the conservatives.

She argued that “this Court is partly to blame for the breakdown in the appellate process. That is because the Court—in this case, the New York cases, and many others—has been all too quick to grant the Government’s ‘reflexiv[e]’ requests.”

She continued:

Perhaps most troublingly, the Court’s recent behavior on stay applications has benefited one litigant over all others. This Court often permits executions—where the risk of irreparable harm is the loss of life—to proceed, justifying many of those decisions on purported failures “to raise any potentially meritorious claims in a timely manner.”

Yet the Court’s concerns over quick decisions wither when prodded by the Government in far less compelling circumstances— where the Government itself chose to wait to seek relief, and where its claimed harm is continuation of a 20-year status quo in one State. I fear that this disparity in treatment erodes the fair and balanced decisionmaking process that this Court must strive to protect.

In other words, she accused the conservative majority on the court of too easily dismissing the plight of people on death row, while jumping at the chance to do relatively trivial favors for the administration.

“A remarkable accusation for a justice to lob against her colleagues,” noted Slate reporter Mark Joseph Stern. “And tragically accurate.”

Photo Credit: Gage Skidmore